Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of the Year 2010

Now that the horrors of Xmas are behind us, it's time for another seasonal tradition: the annual retrospective.

The year began with the announcement of the Family Justice Review, which will 'examine the effectiveness of the family justice system and the outcomes it delivers, and ... make recommendations for reform'. The Review Panel is due to publish its final set of proposals as an interim report, in the spring.

Meanwhile, worrying news for divorce lawyers: we were informed that the divorce rate had fallen to its lowest in 29 years.

To compliment that last item, February brought us the news that marriage rates were the lowest since they were first calculated in 1862.

There was no shortage of care applications, however, with a rise of 43% in 2009, this largely being the cause of Cafcass being in 'meltdown', according to a report by Napo.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal in Agbaje v Akinnoye-Agbaje, a decision described as confirming London as the divorce capital of the world, although I doubt that the wife saw it that way.

Despite the best efforts of former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Sir Nicholas Wall was sworn in as the new President of the Family Division, replacing Sir Mark Potter.

Meanwhile, the election got under way, with the Conservative manifesto including 'a flagship pledge to give tax breaks of up to £150 a year to married couples to encourage stability'. I wonder what happened to that promise?

In May we got a new government, although it would take a few months to feel the full impact of the change. Michael Gove was appointed Education Secretary and immediately ditched Labour's re-branding of his department, so that the Department for Children, Schools and Families would once again be known as the Department for Education. Meanwhile, in his first official speech as Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg announced the Government's plans to scrap the controversial children's database ContactPoint.

The new government orders the Munro Review, an independent review of child protection and social work in England, and announces a 'fundamental look' at the legal aid system, more of which later.

The family law supplier base was ‘decimated’ by the ‘shock’ outcome of the Legal Services Commission’s tender for civil legal aid work, but far worse was to come...

The Court of Appeal ruled in Tchenguiz v Imerman that that the Hildebrand rules, which enabled a wife or husband to secretly obtain, copy and use each others' documents in divorce proceedings, have "no basis in law" and are unlawful, a decision described as a 'cheat's charter'.

In one of the most moving law reports of the year, Judge Clifford Bellamy, adopting the 'poignant descriptive words' of Munby J (as he then was) in Re D (Intractable Contact Dispute: Publicity), began his judgment in Warwickshire County Council v TE & Ors with the words: "On 21 July 2010 a wholly deserving father left my court in tears having been driven to abandon his battle to implement an order which I had made on 4th January 2010 that his son, S, now aged 12, should move to live with him."

The Law Society won its High Court challenge to the Legal Services Commission’s family tender process. It would turn out to be a hollow victory...

In a speech to Families Need Fathers Sir Nicholas Wall attacked parents who use their children as 'ammunition' in separations.

October finally saw family lawyers across the country hyperventilating over the case they had been waiting for for so long: Radmacher v Granatino, in which the Supreme Court decided that the Court of Appeal was correct to hold the husband to the pre-nuptial agreement made by the parties.

Meanwhile, in the 'bonfire of the quangos', the government announced that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority were to be scrapped, along with the Legal Services Commission.

Elsewhere, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly was promoting family mediation (this would not be the last time), and Part One of the Munro Review was published.

The government published its Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, including abolishing legal aid for ancillary relief and private law children matters, save where there is domestic violence.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the annual conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children, Mr Justice Coleridge warned that people do not take family court decisions seriously enough and do not obey the court orders promptly and fully.

To end a pretty depressing year on a suitable note, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly announced that 93 magistrates' courts and 49 county courts in England and Wales are to be closed, thereby further restricting access to justice.

I would like to say that things can only get better next year, but I'm not so certain...

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